The must-have gear and fun accessories to get before the semester begins
We'll start our tour here at Freeman Hall, which is notable for housing the majority of the lecture halls on campus. Every one of you registered in a 101 class will be paying this building a visit at least twice a week this semester, and every one of you registered in a 101 class will be taking a lot of notes. Thankfully, taking notes is not what it used to be. Livescribe has put out the Pulse Smartpen, a pen with so many features it might need its own 101 class.
To start with, the pen has an infrared sensor built into the tip which, when used with the included Livescribe Dot Paper, stores every note you take on the pen's on-board memory. The pen comes in 1GB and 2GB models, so you can choose a model that's suitable to your particular needs.
A microphone at the top records lectures as you take notes, and when you connect the pen to your computer via USB, you can transfer the notes and lecture, link them together, and convert your hand written notes into text that you can then reorganize, edit and annotate to your heart's desire.
The pen also has a headphone port and built-in speaker so you can listen to lectures and recordings directly from the pen. The Livescribe Dot Paper itself provides the primary user-interface; tap the "buttons" on the bottom of the page to start or stop recording and playback. To playback note-specific recordings, simply tap once on that particular note.
An included 3D Recording Headset has two embedded microphones and plugs into the pen for monitoring volume and sound quality. The pen comes with replacement ink cartridges and access to a variety of software to use with it.
If you prefer taking notes with plain old pen-and-paper, it might still behoove you to store those notes as text on your computer. Try using the IRISCan Express 2 - Portable Color Sheetfeed Scanner. It's very portable – less than ten inches wide and about 1.5 inches long – and scans in color at 600 dpi. Text recognition software produces text in PDF and Microsoft Office formats, and the scanner works on paper sizes ranging from legal size to business cards.
It's safe to assume that at least some of you are going to want to cut out the middleman and take notes right on a portable computer. If you're looking for a netbook to carry around campus, try the Eee PC1005HA Seashell Netbook from Asus.
It weighs in at a meager 2.8 lbs, light enough that you'll barely notice it's sitting in your messenger bag or backpack, which is a major convenience if you have classes at opposite ends of campus. Despite the lightweight package, the netbook features a screen big enough to see websites and videos without sacrificing clarity and a keyboard 92% the size of the average laptop's keyboard.
The netbook has an integrated Wireless-N card so you can connect to any type of campus WiFi network, and the battery can last up to 8.5 hours, which will provide a full day of note-taking and still have enough juice to go online between and after classes. It also has a built-in camera and microphone -- you can video-chat with friends and family around the world. 160GB of hard drive space gives you plenty of room to store all your papers, notes, presentations, and a small media library.
Despite all these features, netbooks are still a little limited. They don't have CD or DVD players, they're useless for playing resource-intensive games, and they don't have the hard drive space for a truly comprehensive media library. If you want to use your computer for more than internet access and writing papers, take a look at the Acer Aspire AS5536-5883.
At 6.2 lbs, The Aspire is not quite as portable as the Eee PC, but with a 2.1GHz AMD Athlon Dual-Core processor, 3GB of RAM, and an integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics card, it keeps up with today's more resource-intensive programs. The notebook comes packaged with Vista Home Premium, and if you purchase one before January 31st, 2010, you're eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 7.
The Aspire features a super-multi DVD burner reads and writes CDs and DVDs in a wide variety of formats including DVD±R DL, and four USB ports give you plenty of room to plug in your peripherals. If you're taking any type of math class, the laptop's keyboard has a dedicated numeric pad to make crunching numbers a little easier.
If you want to maintain a large media library, the laptop is up to the task with its 320GB hard drive. A backlit 15.6" LED display lets you watch widescreen video in high-resolution and clarity, and if you want to watch movies with a few friends, an HDMI port on the back lets you attach the laptop to an HD Plasma or LCD TV.
No matter what type of portable computer you use, the four programs that make up Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007 are crucial tools for every student. If a teacher asks you to email in a paper, they're asking for it in Word format.
Word 2007 has a number of student-friendly features. It provides context-based spell checking, so even words which are spelled correctly raise a flag if you're using the wrong spelling for the context. The word processor also has intuitive bibliography generation, so when you're creating footnotes and works-cited pages you don't have to keep flipping through your style manual to make sure you're doing it right.
Throughout the Office suite, the user interface has been redesigned and streamlined for much more intuitive control over the vast number of functions available in each of the programs. The other programs in Office Home and Student are Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
If you're taking notes on the laptop, you'll be visiting a lot of buildings with it in tow, so get a case of some sort to protect it. The Tamrac Superlight Computer Sleeve makes carrying it around comfortable and easy. It's available in 10, 13, 15, and 17" sizes and two color schemes so it's easy to pick one that's right for your computer. A large front pocket lets you carry lecture handouts without creasing them, and an overlapping grip for the carrying handles makes it comfortable to hold.
If you find yourself getting a little frustrated using your laptop's touchpad, try a Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse instead. It doesn't have any wires to get knotted up while shifting around in your backpack, and the mouse turns off when the USB receiver is nested under it so you're not wasting battery life. A comfortable ergonomic design gives your hand a break from contorting while using the touchpad, and it's plug-and-play compatible with just about any computer.
Unfortunately, laptops frequently don't have enough USB ports for the wide variety of accessories that need them. Use a 4-Port USB Hub to convert a single USB 2.0 port into four, so you can simultaneously charge your phone, manage the content on your media player, and use your printer with a single port.
Netbooks don't come with a lot of the accessories that their owners need. Instead of purchasing them individually as you need them, grab Targus's Netbook Accessory Kit. It includes a light, form-fitting neoprene skin for netbooks up to 10.2", so you can throw your netbook in your backpack without having to worry about scratches or dust. The kit also includes a 4-port USB hub, and a tiny (3 x 1.4 x 0.9", 0.01 lb) optical mouse with a retractable USB cord.
If you want a media library bigger than your laptop can handle, you're going to need a portable hard drive, especially if you're using a netbook. Western Digital offers the 500GB My Passport Essential Portable Hard Drive, which can store up to 125,000 songs. It connects via USB and has a transfer rate of 60Mbps, so moving media on and off your computer is quick and easy. You can also use it to archive the assignments polluting your desktop at the end of the semester.
One of the worst things that can happen over the course of the semester is to spend hours working on a paper and then lose it when your computer gets stolen or lost. The clickfree Transformer Backup Device connects between your computer and a portable hard drive and automatically backs up documents, music, videos, emails and more. It supports up to 400 file types and doesn't require any software to use, so you can quickly and easily back up that all-important term paper without a second thought.
A lot of professors are going to want you to email all your papers in, but you're still going to have at least one who will want everything in hardcopy. If you don't feel like waiting in line to print them in the computer labs, pick up an All-In-One Color Inkjet Printer from Lexmark.
The printer prints black-and-white documents as fast as 26 pages-per-minute, so you can get that assignment printed out in those last crucial seconds before class begins. It has a color flatbed scanner for documents and pictures up to 8.5 x 17", and comes with photo-editing software. To print brilliant, clear photos right from your dorm room upgrade the 4-color ink cartridge to a 6-color one.
An unfortunate reality of dorm life is that things get stolen. No matter how amazing everyone on campus may seem, it still happens. Laptops are frequently targeted because of their value and portability. Get a Kensington ComboSaver Combination Lock to keep your laptop safe when you're not in the room. The 6' steel cable and user-defined 4-digit combination make it easy to secure your laptop in place. Most laptops and netbooks are designed with a Kensington security slot compatible with this lock.
For those of you from out of town, a webcam is a great way to keep in touch with your family while keeping phone bills down. If your computer doesn't have one built-in, try Microsoft's LifeCam VX-5000, a compact webcam with an integrated microphone that connects to your laptop using a standard USB 2.0 connection. 1.3MP resolution and a 30fps frame-rate make sure the person you're video-chatting with can see you clearly, and the integrated microphone means you won't have to connect more than one device each time your folks want to hear from you.
Between all the classes and studying, you're going to need a break. Chill out in your room or on the run with a Compact Television from GPX. Use the included antennas and headphones to catch your favorite shows while taking a breather in the library, or keep it in your dorm room and hook it up to cable, a gaming system, or a Blu-ray player. A car power adapter makes it a must-have for road trips. It comes with a remote control, and is available in 7" and 9" screens.
For a TV with a built-in DVD player, go for Coby's 10.2" Widescreen LCD Digital TV/Monitor. It has a top-loading DVD player, and features 16:9 widescreen playback. The TV has built-in USB and SD/MMC card ports for audio, video, and photo playback. AV Input jacks let you plug in DVRs and game consoles, and a VESA 75 x 75mm wall-mountable design makes it easy to install in your dorm room.
If video games are more your speed when it comes to relaxing, pick up Logitech's ClearChat Stereo PC Headset. Slip it on and use voice chat applications for internet games that require real-time coordination and strategy. The in-line volume control and rotating microphone make it perfect for MMORPGs, sports games, and first-person shooters. Alternatively, use it with VoIP applications like Skype and keep in touch with friends and family in-town, out-of-town, and overseas.
Of course, nothing quite beats music when it comes to decompressing. Slacker's Personal Radio Player lets you store up to 25 preprogrammed, artist, or personalized radio stations at any time. The player can store up to 4000 songs, and it automatically syncs and updates its content whenever it's connected to a WiFi network or plugged into a computer. Bring it with you for those long walks between classes, when you're working out at the gym, or just when you need to sit back and relax for a few minutes.
If you're carrying around an iPhone or a Palm Pre, give a pair of Bose headphones a try. The Mobile In-Ear Headphones and Mobile On-Ear Headphones have an inline omnidirectional mic with a built-in answer/end button, and use proprietary TriPort acoustic technology for clear, lifelike sound.
The in-ear set comes with three sizes of silicone eartips, and the on-ear set is collapsible, has a detachable cable, and has soft memory foam ear cushions for maximum comfort and portability.
If you really want to impress your roommates with your taste in music, hook Stereo Computer Speakers from Altec Lansing into your computer. They're powered by USB, so you don't have the extra wires and bulk of an AC adapter. The cylindrical design and angled stands help you find the best acoustic arrangement, and the volume control is conveniently placed on the top of the speakers.
You're not going to get the chance to use all of this gear with the two sets of outlets the school decided is enough for you and your roommates. Use a SurgeArrest Surge Protector from APC to get more outlets and protect your electronics from power surges. The strip has seven outlets and a 6' cord so you can place it wherever is most convenient for you. The surge protector gives you enough outlets to plug in your laptop, phone charger, Playstation, and alarm clock without having to fight your roommates for space.
That concludes our tour today. The beginning of a new school year is always exciting and intense, and with the right mix of gear and accessories, it will also stay very interesting throughout.